Lamb: The public’s right to know still essential

C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb (left) and USA TODAY founder Al Neuharth field questions during an Oct. 6 press conference on the University of South Dakota campus in Vermillion. Lamb was on campus to receive the 2011 Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media. (Photo by David Lias)

The founder, chairman and CEO of C-SPAN emphasized the importance of openness in news coverage as he became the newest recipient of the Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media.

Brian Lamb received the award in a ceremony held in the Robert L. Slagle Hall Auditorium on the campus of the University of South Dakota Thursday night.

"This award means a lot to me and to our C-SPAN people and to the cable television industry, because of the ability of Al Neuharth and the ability of his people at Gannett seeing the need to open the process up," Lamb said. "Don't be self-important about what you're doing. Let everybody see. Don't worry about whether or not you're winning or losing, and everybody will come out in the end just fine."

C-SPAN was made available to approximately 3.5 million households in the United States when it launched in 1979.

Since that time, it has expanded to include three 24-hour cable networks, a radio station, and 15 other Web sites.

On giving him the award, Al Neuharth, founder of the USA Today and the Freedom Forum, referred to Lamb as "one of the nation's greatest media innovators and achievers of our time."

In turn, Lamb thanked Neuharth and other newspaper publishers for helping his fledgling network upon its launch. He said that he was often met with officials both in the government and the media who would refuse to allow the presence of C-SPAN at various functions.

The cameras usually would be allowed, Lamb said, after local and regional newspapers would run editorials decrying the blocks.

Another link to Neuharth came on the USA Today's first day of publication, and C-SPAN cameras covered the entire event from the newsroom.

"We started when they started their day and ended when the paper came off the press, and it was the first time really anybody saw the inside of the newspaper world," Lamb remembered.

Also on hand to congratulate Lamb on his receipt of the award was James C. Duff, president and CEO of the Freedom Forum, who said journalists could learn a lot from Lamb's interviewing style.

"I've always thought that if I were ever asked to interview anyone, I would want to do it just like Brian Lamb," Duff said. "He is a model of civility and his demeanor has really propelled him into fields that have never been explored before by the media."

In response to a question from the audience, Neuharth addressed the issue of civility and fairness in terms of the coverage offered by other cable news outlets, specifically Fox News.

"It's owned by Rupert Murdoch," Neuharth said. "Most of you know who Rupert Murdoch is, and you know what kind of journalism he practices, including what he practiced with his tabloids in London. He believes that the media should give the audience what it wants. … He doesn't care about fairness. He cares about appealing to the biggest segment of his kind of audience that he can get."

Lamb said that although he has strong political views, he does not allow them — or those of his staff — to make their way to the airwaves.

"I'm sure some of our folks have strong political views, but I have no idea what they are. I can't tell you how anybody voted," he said. "Our mission is to stay out of the way, so we do. Just stay out of the way. …

"I used to say, when you walk through the door at C-SPAN, there's a sign — only you can't see it — that says, 'If you care who wins, you shouldn't be here.'"

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